Vitamin E is a generic term for a group of lipid-soluble antioxidant compounds, the tocopherols and tocotrienols. While tocotrienols are considered as important vitamin E components in humans, with functions in health and disease, the protective functions of tocotrienols have never been investigated in plants, contrary to tocopherols. We took advantage of the strong accumulation of tocotrienols in leaves of double transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants that coexpressed the yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) prephenate dehydrogenase gene (PDH) and the Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase gene (HPPD) to study the antioxidant function of those compounds in vivo. In young leaves of wild-type and transgenic tobacco plants, the majority of vitamin E was stored in thylakoid membranes, while plastoglobules contained mainly delta-tocopherol, a very minor component of vitamin E in tobacco. However, the vitamin E composition of plastoglobules was observed to change substantially during leaf aging, with alpha-tocopherol becoming the major form. Tocotrienol accumulation in young transgenic HPPD-PDH leaves occurred without any significant perturbation of photosynthetic electron transport. Tocotrienols noticeably reinforced the tolerance of HPPD-PDH leaves to high light stress at chilling temperature, with photosystem II photoinhibition and lipid peroxidation being maintained at low levels relative to wild-type leaves. Very young leaves of wild-type tobacco plants turned yellow during chilling stress, because of the strongly reduced levels of chlorophylls and carotenoids, and this phenomenon was attenuated in transgenic HPPD-PDH plants. While sugars accumulated similarly in young wild-type and HPPD-PDH leaves exposed to chilling stress in high light, a substantial decrease in tocotrienols was observed in the transgenic leaves only, suggesting vitamin E consumption during oxygen radical scavenging. Our results demonstrate that tocotrienols can function in vivo as efficient antioxidants protecting membrane lipids from peroxidation.
Tocotrienols have been shown to inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in cancer cells. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in tocotrienol-induced apoptosis are still unclear. In the present study, gamma-tocotrienol induced apoptosis in human gastric adenocarcinoma SGC-7901 cell line through down regulation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signalling pathway. Furthermore, gamma-tocotrienol-induced apoptosis was accompanied by down regulation of Bcl-2, up regulation of Bax, activation of caspase-3, and subsequent poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage. These results indicated that up or down regulation of Bcl-2 family proteins play a major role in the initiation of gamma-tocotrienol-induced apoptosis as an activator of caspase-3. Gamma-tocotrienol also down regulated the activation of the Raf-ERK signalling pathway, and down regulated c-Myc by decreasing the expressions of Raf-1 and p-ERK1/2 proteins. The results suggest that key regulators in tocotrienol-induced apoptosis may be Bcl-2 families and caspase-3 in SGC-7901 cells through down regulation of the Raf-ERK signalling pathway.